Days of Our Years
Producer Carl Dudley took to the streets and workplaces of Los Angeles to make this despairing trilogy of accidents and their devastating effects on railroad workers and families. The Days of Our Years shows a landscape full of risks and dangers, a world where something can happen every day to careless people, where those innocent of responsibility suffer the most Ñ a world, in fact, remarkably similar to ours. The menaces that its characters face daily are not age-old quarrels between clans, ethnic groups or nations, but risks faced by working people on the job. The paradox of this film is that although it was made by a railroad company and expresses highly specific corporate interests, it's also rooted in a working-class milieu and reflects this throughout every scene.
First things first. God is the ultimate authority. "It is written in the Old Testament: to each of us this allotment of years. The days of our years are three score and ten." The film opens with a choir, a church, a minister and a Biblical quote.
In the age-old tradition of holding workers (rather than management or the makers of machines) responsible for accidents, this film shows stories of people who are "the victims of themselves." "I know the road does everything in its power to prevent accidents," says the minister/narrator, and saddles these workingmen with complete responsibility for the risks they face. This is a common theme of safety films, which combine a healthy degree of corporate self-interest with an occasional concern for the well-being of workers and consumers.
If we're not to sell this film short, though, we should look beyond its sleazier side. When ephemeral films channel to us evidence of yesterday's everyday life and culture, evidence we'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, they're really at their best; and this is a great example. The Days of Our Years transcends its limited mandate to present a portrait of a white working-class Los Angeles, a culture which has now pretty much vanished. This L.A. is populated by working people who live near the railroad freight terminal and repair shops in places like Commerce, Vernon and Bell. Joe Tindler, a road electrical foreman is in love with Helen, a waitress at a local luncheonette; they're saving up to get married. Two buddies on a yard train crew (George Price and Fred Bellows) plan to retire together and travel the world. And Charlie O'Neill is excited beyond words at the imminence of a new baby. These are pretty basic aspirations: marriage, a new home, retirement "after forty-two years of good, honest work," a new baby. In each case the wish is not granted because of an accident. This is not the California of 77 Sunset Strip and the Cleavers; it's a working-class community resembling the urban Northeast rather than the suburbs and beach cities of southern California. Its people live more traditional lives and work at jobs that have been in existence for over a century, and the film shows this with skill and precision.
The strength of the film lies in the details. When we're introduced to Joe Tindler, he's shaving his neck in his bachelor room. Keep an eye on that neck. Helen looks into a polished toaster and fantasizes her future with Joe, including the purchase of that "Plan 5 Model Home." The Prices and Bellows sit planning their retirement at a picnic table covered with National Geographics opened to ads for Hawaiian vacations. Larry Bellows pulls down a windowshade as he changes clothes, and George Price sees this as a rejection and rebuke. Saddest of all, young welder Charlie O'Neill, newly blinded and wearing Roy Orbison shades, gropes around his baby son's crib in search of a toy locomotive.
We mentioned the Biblical allusions. There is something almost scriptural in the rhythm and simplicity of the narration. "George tried to go to Fred Bellows' funeral, but the doctor said no. You don't walk around two days after a heart attack. But they couldn't keep him away from the window." The minister/narrator has almost complete control over the narration; everything is voiceover except for the screams of the victims.
A profound contradiction embraces most safety films, a mismatch between ends and means. Quite often the most effective accident reduction strategy for a filmmaker seems to be to present dramatized accidents. When audiences see careless, pain and suffering and their devastating effects, it's thought they'll act more safely. But does it really work that way? Simply examine your feelings as you sit and watch a film like The Days of Our Years. If you are a typical spectator, what you're doing is really waiting for the accident to happen. This is the payoff, the gratification, the closure. I'd argue that this process is distracting enough to weaken, maybe even crowd out, the intended message. In fact, The Days of Our Years builds up to the climactic accidents with great skill and drama, and it does this not once, but three times over.
Some safety films employ unorthodox measures to get the viewer's attention or focus on the risks and pitfalls of ordinary behavior. There's nothing radical about The Days of Our Years; it's simply an extremely well-made film pitting the risk of life-disrupting accidents against closely held values of ritual, community and family succession. "Let not man by his thoughtlessness diminish the blessings of the Lord." It's like a safety shoe you put on to protect your foot.
Safety Danger Lurks Safety films Safety education Union Pacific Railroad (sponsor) Railroads Railroads (accidents) Surrealism Narratives Stories Ministers Workers (railroad) Workers (shop) Workers (welders) Welding Romance Love Workers (waitresses) Marriage Fantasies Houses and homes (new) Houses and homes (model) Suburbia Fireplaces Couples (young) Accidents Irresponsibility Negligence Driving Automobiles (accidents) Collapses Heart attacks Trains Switchmen Railroads (yards) Windowshades Sons Rebukes Hostility Anger Pregnancy Childbirth Fatherhood Blindness Eyes (blinded) Visual effects (eyes being blinded by torch) Torches Babies Fathers (blind) Cigars
Subject: amazing, it looks so real!
Subject: Moral of the Story
Depressing, if not irritating film made worse by the narration.
Subject: comparative risks
Subject: You could forgive them for being loathsome sinners.
All three of the victims in "The Days of Our Years" sinned against Union Pacific by caring about something other than their jobs. Joe was excited about getting married. Reward? A spinal injury. George looked forward to retirement. Reward? Social ostracism because he had the nerve to get a heart attack on the job. Ralph was overjoyed at the birth of his son. Reward? Blindness. A normal safety film actually shows people at work, getting into accidents because they're busy and want to take some stupid shortcut or neglect some precaution. "The Days of Our Years" is the only safety film, probably ever, that spends more time at its victims' homes than at their workplace. The underlying message is clear: live for something other than your job and you're begging for trouble. Judging from this film the ideal Union Pacific employee looked forward only to a desolate apartment at the end of the day (no messy off-the-clock distractions!) and quit after the first grey hair (suffer that stroke on your own time, murderer!)
The priest's voice is gentle but his tone is condescending, smug in the extreme. He stands apart, lecturing as though he were pointing out the habits of some fish in his aquarium. He keeps saying "you can forgive them" while it's clear that he forgives them nothing. Hell, he probably devotes every Sunday's homily to reminding his congregation to put work before family.
Subject: Let's Call it Personal Responsibility
Subject: A Different World
It is almost surreal to see a corporate safety film with so many religious references-- such a treatment would surely be met with litigation today-- but this is simply a reflection of how much our culture has changed since 1955. A half-century ago, such references would not have been seen as controversial or provocative, but would have served very well to reinforce the gravitas of the message. The clergyman character would not have been perceived as a scolding presence, but as a comforting one. Also, fifty yers ago sarcasm and cynicism were not seen as the clever answer to every situation, and this material would have seemed far less "maudlin" to its intended audience.
Subject: They don't get much sappier than this...
Subject: Interesting film
What was amazing however, was how the fellow who had a sudden heart attack which caused a train accident was blamed for being "careless!"
I sure would love to know what the choir MUSIC is at the beginning, part of it seems to be cut off at the very start but whatever it is I sure enjoy it and would like to find out the title.
Subject: Another one bites the dust !
Recomended but for all the wrong reasons....the unintentional sick humor, the period cars and clothes, and the minister / narrator who seems to be from the "gods divine plunishment" school of pastorial care....good grief, I pitty those he gives "comfort" to....
Subject: Fair, but not well played
Subject: Here's Some Sad Stuff That Happens
No one dies from their accidents, yet they may well as have, because life is apparently meaningless after disability according to this film. A man with a (permanent?) neck injury is always unhappy, a man who suffered a heart attack is embittered and shunned, and a man who loses his sight "never sees his baby son." Is this film trying to avoid accidents or argue for purging undesirables from society? It can be hard to tell the difference in this film.
Of course, it's a must see.
Anyhoo, this film is quite a downer to watch, and the fact that the pastor in this film seems indifferent and unhelpful to the "victims" in this story makes it all the more bleak.
And the scene where (spoiler ahead!) the new father accidentally gets a acetylene torch in his eyes is somewhat disturbing, it almost had a Brakhage-like aesthetic to it even...
Overall, this film is an interesting watch, but quirte sad in some aspects... At least it could of had the pastor trying to comfort & counsel the victims & their families, instead of having him be a aloof observer...
Subject: Accident-Hater Lenny won't go to college
Careless George inflicts his heart-attack on everyone around him. So much for work-ethic vs. calling in sick. Ineffectual train-town Pastor refuses to help anyone, least of all, George who believes Lenny hates him. The creepy, Aryan pastor just stares at people. Thank goodness for modern therapy.
Suave, sunglassed Charlie trades eyesight for cigars by his final, fatal forgetfulness, skipping the erotic, "gentle pressure to the shoulder" but "you can forgive him." Forgive him? What about the guy with the torch? I hope he rots in hell!
Lessons learned: fall victim of an accident and be prepared to withdraw from life, morose and fatalistic. Suggestion: don't expect any help from your pastor.
Subject: Incidental Victims
All this is told from the perspective of a local minister who is intimately involved in the lives of those caught in the aftermath (officiating marriages and funerals, visiting the injured). A well-made, low budget film. If you're a Baby Boomer interested in trains (my father was a conductor) and can look past the maudlin tone of the minister's narration, then this is your film.
Subject: Marriage with a neck brace!
Subject: The Days of Our Years
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: *****. Also available on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Episode #623: The Amazing Transparent Man and Our Secret Century, Vol. 4: Menace and Jeopardy.